Virtue of pride: policy of doing your best

First Published: 2015-03-08

According to conventional morality, pride is a sin. According to Aristotle, it is the crown of all virtues. Instead of pride, conventional morality holds humility as a virtue: we should recognize that individual accomplishments are really due to collective efforts or divine grace and not feel false pride for what we have achieved. Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed pride as the essential motivator for developing a good character and living a good life.

I am with Aristotle: pride is an important virtue—because it helps us to be the best we can be and to lead happy, productive lives. Pride is not merely a feeling we have from having done a good job. As a virtue it means the policy of doing one’s best (Tara Smith has an excellent discussion of this in her book, The Virtuous Egoist: Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics). But from the perspective of rational egoism, doing one’s best is not a moral duty we owe others. We should strive to do our best because our thriving and happiness depend on it. Doing our best helps us achieve our values: we develop our skills and talents and enhance our careers and financial well-being, and we practice other virtues such as honesty and integrity that help us achieve values in all realms of life.

Ayn Rand considered the virtue of pride moral ambitiousness: practicing moral virtues, not for their own sake, but because they define the actions that we need to achieve our values. Pride is a virtue of egoism because it is based on an evaluation: “My life is important and I deserve to be happy.” However, egoism holds that all values, including self-esteem, must be earned. It can only be earned by striving to do your best—by adopting the policy of doing your best, in any endeavor you choose to take on. Doing your best means striving to apply the six other basic egoist virtues (rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness) in your daily life. But since these virtues are all aspects of rationality, Ayn Rand summarized pride as “unbreached rationality.” In other words, doing your best depends on adhering to reality and thinking logically to solve any problem you encounter and to reach any goal you set for yourself.

Pride matters also in business. It is a significant motivating force that is sometimes most visible in its absence. We have all had encounters with companies where employees, or at least some, are not practicing pride, which manifests in lack of customer service or poor products. They do not care about their work or what your experience is as a customer; they are there to “serve time” and get their paycheck, and generally demonstrate incompetence and negligence. We all have also had experiences where employees have gone out of their way to offer great customer service, or enjoyed well-designed and well-made products. (Fortunately, these companies are the ones that outperform their rivals in competitive markets. The latter are manifestations of people practicing the policy of doing their best.

Many companies (and people) fall somewhere in between the above two examples because they have either failed to recognize the importance of pride or to instill it as an important guiding principle, or both. To engage employees in doing their best requires that management first shows why applying pride is in employees’ self-interest: if they perform better, so will the company, which means more secure employment and opportunities for advancement and better compensation. As importantly, engaging in a job and doing it well is a much better source of satisfaction than going through the motions of a job and putting in a minimum effort. But management also has to follow through by ensuring that employees are trained to do their jobs properly and recognized for their accomplishments, both in praise and in financial incentives.

The consequence of embracing pride at work would be more motivated and productive employees who require less supervision, better products and customer service, and more wealth creation. The consequence for all of us of embracing pride as the policy of doing our best in all realms of life would be achieving our values: thriving and happiness.

First published at How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business and posted here with the kind permission of the author.

Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

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